Tuesday 26 June 2018

Clarice Lispector, Turgenev, Edward Louis

I have had Clarice Lispector's The Chandelier in continuo for many weeks. I like to have her around, interspersed with other reading. The last ten pages are overlaid by Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, read up at the pond, beside the reservoir and at night, finished a day or two ago, now replaced by Edouard Louis' A History of Violence, which has been in the house for a week or so, giving off some strong issues and flavours none of which appeal.

Sandie said that the way I live and read and write will only register after I'm dead. Not sure how comforting or accurate that might be. So I weave books around my sensibility where others weave goals, teams and aspirations. So?

What is language doing for these writers, this reader? How dependent are we? How involved how absent how urgent the tale? Clarice is the most urgent/dependent/absent; she has the least tale, the most setting of private dials. How do I deal with the world, what are the terms for my survival? What happens is less than what I make of it, how I weave it in words that in turn weave me. 
No tree, no rock, nakedness up the horizon of erased mountains; her heart was beating superficially and she was hardly breathing as if in order to live it was enough to look.
Turgenev's familial Russian decrepitude, I know as I begin to read, I expect these characters in these relations in nineteenth century rural Russia, with authorial pieties all observed: plenty fathers, plenty sons, mothers dead or otherwise meek, some crocky aunts and eccentric uncles living on lapsed or creaking country estates, a sense of roundedness by tale's end, some dead, some married, and Turgenev our author resembling one of his own uncles, à la fin. A peaceful, comfortably foreign past.

Edouard Louis, feu Eddy Bellegueule, is hardly older than Clarice Lispector when she wrote The Chandelier, but his history of violence is a mass of influences while she, like Bazarov the nihilist/natural scientist who dies of typhus at the end of Fathers and Sons, springs from her own source.

The influences of Bellegueule/Louis are the bootstraps of his rescue. He has read Bourdieu, and Faulkner, he attracts issues and issues attraction. He is at the centre of 21st century concern. Saleable. Recountable. Translatable. His author photo looks like someone I know. I read the first chapter with the most fairness I could muster.

Eddy & Clarice make an interesting couple, each as self-preoccupied as the other, one of them plain as the Daily Mail, the other rhapsodic/self-examining. Here they are, side by side.
It was then that she experienced all the way to the end whatever it was whose foreboding had already worried her at the edge of the plateau. With a contained joy, flashing and fine, she was in the meadow ...  you understand? she was asking herself confused, her dark eye watching to the rescue of the whitened mountains.
I looked down at my shoes like I was a moron too (I tried to go back to sleep, I wanted to sleep, but my body hurt too much). And he says to me, I hated everyone, I know it's crazy, Clara, but that morning I woke up hating everyone (and I thought: How can you hate them?).
Take your pick.

Sunday 17 June 2018

Clarice Lispector, The Chandelier

Clarice Lispector's The Chandelier, written when she was 23, calls up my diary's desert years, in my early twenties, which you can't so much read as taste and then pause. No crevice left unexplored, unsaid. Clarice had a firmer grasp on the stuff of her life than I did. She pulls back from the brink of what can't be said, and then says it.
That's when things became real. Who'd forced her to speak, who: she could cry scared and tired in that instant because if there were a strange phrase to say it would be: please pass me the olives.
She is persistent; you can choose any sentence in The Chandelier and there it is.
He laughed, all his teeth appeared in silence.
She has the muscularity of what she looks at. She is resolute. She uses many verbs. I avoided verbs, unless in the subjunctive mood. I liked (abstract) nouns. I was deflected, diluted and hung out to dry in the groves of academe. I was reading Mallarmé and trying to comprehend my solitude and its diary.
and to tell me not to speak
would be to tell me that
all I ever said was but
a crevice long in the wood
in the frame of a picture
I thought was not mine alone.
With Clarice there's a push to make clear the connect/disconnect of the outer to the inner world. Here is every last thought and observation, every conjecture.
Reality was laughing at all of them. She was arranging the flowers with all her fingers. Her barely-present lips were hiding in shadows born from the position of her head.. Her breasts were growing congested squeezed by her clothes, her hips were widening with fatigue, without beauty.
Tuesday 9th June 1970, JK's diary takes a rueful look at itself.
It will perhaps be the one triumph of this diary to have written itself both in and out of existence. 
On the 17th of July 1970 I recorded the bus conductor's conversation with one of his passengers. How he was going to Jersey this year with the wife, £42, cottage of course, including the fare, and that's £18, so it's not bad. Other people's reality butted in verbatim with a certitude I could only keep in reserve. Other people's lives. Clear as fiction.

Clarice, bless her, is always in existence, batting about among her certitudes, wrangling her definitions.
Stubborn, she was staring at her face trying to define its fleeting magic, the softness of the movement of breathing that was lighting it and slowly putting it out. The corruption was bathing her in a sweet light. So there she was. So there she was. There was no one who could save or lose her. And that's how the moments were unfurling and dying while her quiet and mute face was floating in expectation. So there she was. Even yesterday the pleasure of laughing had made her laugh. And ahead of her stretched the entire future. 
You can pick any few pages, any few lines, and there she is, seeking herself out, losing and then seeking, saying it all: the truth was so fast you had to squint to see it. In the diary of JK age 23, the truth was so submerged you had to drown to find it.
And the more dire the dead end, the long sheet of failure, gales that are perplexity incarnate.
The Chandelier and JK's diary are alike intense, best tasted in essence, like lavender, then left to rest. These two young women are scrupulous and relentless, JK all metaphor and remove, Clarice all tongue and fire, both strung out on the effort, torture, pleasure, of trying to clarify.

Saturday 9 June 2018

Henri Michaux, A Certain Plume

Reading A Certain Plume by Henri Michaux up by a certain pond watching a certain diver beetle surface, once, and a certain caddis fly pupa in the shape of a small leafy cigar, swim northeast a few inches under the water.
What he searches for in books is revelation. He skims through them. Suddenly, to his great delight, a sentence ... an incident ... whatever ... something there ... At which point he proceeds to levitate toward this something with everything he has within him, at times clinging to it as iron to magnet.
Yes. Yes also to his account of his reading habit.
His attention span was short, and even when interested in something, he noticed little, as if only an outer layer of attention were opening in him, but not his 'self'. He just stood there, shifting his weight back and forth. He would read a great deal, very quickly and very poorly. This is the form his attention took ... And if he tried to read slowly, to 'grasp' the subject: nothing! It was as if he was reading blank pages. But he was quite capable of rereading, as long as he went fast, as can easily be imagined.
Recognising someone else on the page is one of life's safe places. As Virginia Woolf said:
I want someone to sit beside after the day's pursuit and all its anguish, after its listening, and its waitings, and its suspicions. After quarrelling and reconciliation I need privacy—to be alone with you, to set this hubbub in order. For I am neat as a cat in my habits. 
If anyone can make Virginia Woolf sound domestic it's Henri Michaux. He makes the going for himself; all his repetitions refusals and reversals, his disregard for style, his preference for overt dismissal, he turns his back at the drop of a hat, freezes, then runs away. You feel the satisfaction of the bottom of the page. There, that's laid out, there, direct from his inner basin to the page.
He lived for years, eyes on his inner basin.
A Certain Plume has an introduction by Lawrence Durrell from 1958. He met Michaux: 'a voice from the past, a stone-age voice full of veridic information about the state of mind in which poetry declares itself an absolute value.' Michaux is an acclaimed senior in the vatic trade, says Durrell.
The important thing was the moment of complete realisation, the old déclic which is always followed by a subtle shift of epicentre. Wholeness arrives!
My father liked to bring Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet into a conversation. Alongside Der Rosenkavalier. Our styles define us, our tastes, especially those we flaunt.